The Yoga of Step Parenting

February 3, 2017    BY Erin Johnson

There is so much chaos swirling around. In the midst of my meltdowns, I say to myself, again and again: You’ve got this down, so be brave, be patient, you are doing your best. Shit, I did not want to be a parent!

This is not what I thought my family would be.

I work my butt off for these boys—this is relentless. Can I do this?

Why does society give stepmoms such a bad rap?

I have come to realize that I am not the only parent who tells herself these things. Let me rephrase that: I am not the only step parent who says these things to herself. Parenting is one of the hardest things one can do. It is a lesson in grace and love. After sweat, tears, time, and just showing up, family is family—regardless of whether the family is related by blood. Six years ago, I became a stepmom to two little boys, then 2 and 4, the younger one with Down syndrome. Needless to say, my life changed dramatically.

When the self-directed diatribe begins running through my head, it demands a mindful practice of trust in myself and my husband. I try to slow down, breathe, and be present with my emotions without judgment. Still, nothing continues to challenge my ego and issues with control more than parenting. Parenting is my ultimate test for humble surrender.

When you begin to understand and accept who and what you are, without trying to change it, what you are is transformed.

Yes, there are ups and downs in my sanity and in step parenthood. But overall I have found that it is grounding to accept what is without judgment. And while I may succeed in achieving that only half the time, I always aspire to it. When I am true to myself and at peace, the world around me seems to transform—there is flow, joy, and synchronicity. As a friend once shared with me: When you begin to understand and accept who and what you are, without trying to change it, what you are is transformed.

There are times in the midst of it all, however, when I am not brave. Sometimes I yell, and sometimes I lose it. Sometimes I feel that I’m the child, trying to figure everything out, while at the same time guiding the children in my care. Good parenting entails humility, forgiveness, and trust (and integrity as well).

Parenting has taught me self-love. What I know clearly is that love is not rooted in fear or control, but rather the opposite of those. And that the love parents feel for their children is connected to the love deeply embedded in their core, for love is the fabric of the universe.

As I was falling deeply in love with the boys’ father, I told myself: No problem, I will gladly take on two kids. I know what I am getting into. Six and a half years later, still working on potty training the younger one, their mom still refusing to say hello to me or accept my participation in school meetings, I have realized one thing—that I had no idea what I was getting into. Being a parent is one of the hardest things I have ever done, and the furthest thing from what I thought it would be.

And step parenting under these challenging circumstances is also extraordinarily stressful. I know there are many of us stepmoms out there, and our stories are all unique. There are times when I am in the kitchen—yes, having a glass of wine—holding back tears and wondering why we as women don’t talk more, share more, love each other more in these parenting and step-parenting roles. In these moments, I feel so alone—and frankly, crazy. I often cry into the loving and supportive arms of my husband, because being a stepmom has rocked me to the core.

I will be the first to say that step parenting is difficult, heartbreaking, and relentless. But it’s also a wild journey that allows one to experience unconditional love from a child. And love from any child (biological or otherwise) is, well, pure and precious. And taking on this particular role has made such pure love even more vivid. My world, my ego, my sense of control and expectations have basically been annihilated. The day-to-day challenges, along with love and presence, have now become my teacher and my reward.

For me, yoga is love. And yoga to me is not simply implementing a practice, like morning asana or meditation. Rather, it is a way of life. Sometimes I still fixate on yoga as asana; or as sitting in the morning stillness before I begin my day; or the food I grow in our garden; or the grace we say before each meal that brings gratitude, love, and intention to the sacredness of food and family. But I know now that yoga is the totality of all of these. It is being completely present—with both the sweetness and the bitterness. I have found that in this complete presence I come closer to my truth, and to the god of my heart.  

I now believe that  developing the capacity to live one’s truth comes down to this: having circumstances in your life that rock you to the core, that have you question everything, even your very identity. All I can do is try to show up with courage and honesty, and to do my best in each moment.

I now believe that developing the capacity to live one’s truth comes down to this: having circumstances in your life that rock you to the core.

I once had a yoga teacher who said that more than anything else, we are attached to our identity. While I may understand intellectually that all things change, to actually embrace it is difficult for me. I practice daily observing my experience without criticism or judgment. When I can allow the flow of life, without comparison, love arises naturally—and “change” simply is. I can then discern the difference between control and love, or between fear and trust.  

We practice yoga in order to experience our own true nature, and to stay centered (rather than tossed about and pulled off balance). Ultimately, I practice to see who I really am—which, I believe, is God consciousness and pure love.

So, at the end of the day and the end of the breath, I remind myself that I am on the path. That I am devoted to love and to my practice. The sweet spot right in the middle—that which is—will be there always. I just have to be able to see it.

What is my yoga in this moment? Right now, it is riding the wave of love. It means loving myself, while loving two growing boys. And being with one of the most loving beings I know—my husband, their father. It means my yoga practice might not be to step onto my mat for 60 minutes of asana every day, but that I sit in silent prayer at the dawning of each day to realign myself with God. From here I am able to be fully present, honest, and have integrity with myself and my family.

Erin Johnson
Erin Johnson currently works with Banyan Botanicals in Professional Community Relations. She has been a studying and sharing Ayurveda since 2004 and practicing yoga since 1996. Ayurveda and yoga have been cornerstones in her life, anchoring her throughout her studies; a BA in Asian Art History, Massage Therapy, Yoga Therapeutics, and Ayurveda. When she is not working to support professionals in the field of Ayurveda with oils and herbs, she is expanding her own personal offerings to inspire... Read more>>

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